Plants which are utilized as fodder for livestock are confined to those which can provide maximum yields in animal production with minimum management inputs. Such plants are usually members of the families Gramineae and Leguminosae and are mainly herbs or subshrubs. In recent years leguminous shrub and tree species have been receiving increasing attention, particularly for small farmers in developing countries.
The Gramineae and Leguminosae are major sources of human nutrition as cereals and pulses while the by-products of these crops are major sources of nutrition for livestock. This report will be confined, however, to plants which are planted primarily as livestock fodder.
Ethiopia, as part of the African continent, shares many genera and species of grasses and legumes with the rest of the continent. However, its great variations in climate and relief and its heavily dissected landscape have provided the opportunity for further evolution of species and genotypes. About 64 species of legumes, mainly montane (10–11 per cent of the total), have been reported as probably being endemic to Ethiopia, while 30 species of grasses are endemic (Thulin, 1983).
African grasses are the main source of cultivated commercial grass species and cultivars in the tropics and subtropics worldwide and are almost all represented in Ethiopia. While Africa is not the major centre of diversity in legumes it is a major centre of diversity for such genera of fodder potential as Aeschynomene, Alysicarpus, Indigofera, Lablab, Lotononis, Macrotyloma, Neonotonia, Trifolium and Vigna.